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My letter to NYC’s LGBT Center re: Sarah Schulman ban

Dear Center,

I was saddened to receive an email today from Glennda Testone, the Center’s Executive Director, that didn’t address the Center’s decision to ban someone who has done more for our community than most New Yorkers ever will.

If the badly needed programs and services that you provide are largely funded by individuals who stand for censorship over free speech, suppression over freedom, and exclusion over safe spaces, then stand on the side of justice and diversify your funding streams.

Let your leaders and funders be ones who understand the importance of queer people being able to live, speak, and be freely in all countries of the world. Peoples’ lives are depending on it.

Until this happens, I will not support or enter the Center, either personally or financially.

Sincerely,

Yana Walton

The NYT’s Transphobic Ethicist

Below is my letter in response to Chuck Klosterman’s advice to a transgender parent about transitioning in the New York Times Magazine’s column, “The Ethicist.”

Dear Mr. Klosterman,

You and I have something in common, we both aren’t transgender. But your advice to the parent who has experienced long-term gender dysphoria and is considering a gender-confirming transition in The Ethicist deeply concerns me as someone who counts several transgender and gender non-conforming people among my friends, partner, and former partners that I deeply admire. From my experience working for understanding, love, and basic respect for transgender people around the country, I can share with you that the premise that transpeople are trying to “become someone else,” rather than confirm themselves shows a great lack of understanding of what it’s like to live with gender dysphoria or to go through a gender transition. One could argue, with more accuracy, that not transitioning would be living your entire life trying to become someone else other than your true self.

To me, it read as a shocking oversight that you wouldn’t consider how an improvement to one’s “interior life” wouldn’t greatly benefit the writers spouse’s and loved ones, especially the young ones in their care. Parents strive to provide loving, stable environments for their children, and by doing so, must have a basic foundation of stability, truth, and personal power themselves. Having children is a reinvention of life in an of itself, and changes are an inherent and important part of children’s lives.  How we guide children through life and what we teach them about human nature certainly shapes their growth, happiness, and understanding all of our lives – including their own. 

Do you believe that transgender parents are something we should protect our children from? This dehumanizing view is not one I’d want my children growing up with.  I am left wondering if you would describe leaving a marriage that one knew wasn’t right for twenty years as an “irreversible gamble” because it would “significantly reinvent the lives of those around you”? Children often “lack the intellectual and emotional maturity to comprehend what’s really happening” in a divorce, and I’d be surprised to hear a defense of an unhealthy marriage coming from you or this column. And when divorced parents remarry, children are expected to accept one or more altogether new parents. But anyone who’s spent a reasonable about of time around children are surprised at their intellectual and emotional capacity to understand that those who love them will continue to love them.

The real question you should ask yourself is: Why does being transgender inflict psychological damage on others? You ask the writer to consider if their “psychological damage from gender dysphoria is greater than the psychological damage that its restoration will inflict upon the lives of any (or all) of your children?” then go on to answer “If the answer is no, don’t do it.” The implication that transgender parents should consider not transitioning assumes an inherent transphobia among children that doesn’t exist. While trans* people experience an extraordinary amount of discrimination in society, I know that this simple explanation – feeling like one is not the sex they are born –  decreases transphobia in our society, starting in our homes and families. We have the opportunity to raise a generation that understands that transgender people don’t inflict “psychological damage” on others simply by being who they are. That’s how parents who are transitioning can consider children, and the homes they want them to grow up in.
 
I do not believe that one needs to be any particular gender identity to be able speak about trans* issues with understanding, nor do I believe that one needs to be a parent to care about the well-being of children. However, I do wonder if you took the time to sufficiently inform yourself about transgender peoples experiences, or even took the time to read the American Psychological Association’s policy statement on transgender gender identity and expression. Based on this ill-informed column, you wouldn’t be my top pick to advise the countless transgender folks across America who are working through the often painful and long process of aligning their gender identities and expressions with their bodies, or about your feelings on parenting. A good first step would be to admit to your editor that you don’t know enough about gender identity and expression to respond to the inquiry. Only after you’ve taken the time to understand why so many transgender people struggle with depression, suicide, and substance abuse, then – and only then – could you ethically and responsibly point the writer and their family in the direction of a support system with the knowledge and experience to empower them on their journey together. 
 
One thing I can say about personal sadness is this: It’s never just confined to yourself.

Best, Yana Walton